First off, let me say that Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Essential Volume 1 (pretty long title, huh) is about the most bang for your buck your going to find with new graphic novels. So frequently, graphic novels are going to cost you like 26 bucks just for the five-or-six issues collected therein. With the Essential collection here, your getting 31 issues (!) for $16.99. The only drawback is that the pages are all black-and-white, but I can live with that. I’ve bought big b & w omnibuses in the past that I ended up only reading a few issues of before letting them collect dust on the shelf (like the big collections of silver-age books DC puts out). This one, to my surprise, I voraciously read all of over the course of about three days.
What you’re getting here is a fine example of Bronze-age storytelling and art. I know Bronze-age has the connotation of sounding third-rate, but I’d say the Bronze age churned out some of the most enjoyable comics. They’re not as cheeky as silver-age books for starters, and not as serious as modern-age stuff. This was an era where trite sayings were out, but punchlines were still in. What’s fun about books from the 70s and 80s is that they were written at a time when DC and Marvel were pushing to connect with readers, trends and social movements. In this book, they introduce a few ethnic characters but, in their quest to do good, go a little over the top. For instance, this book has Spidey frequently teaming up with Marvel’s first prominent African-American hero whom they insisted on naming Black Panther. This started a trend where, for some odd reason, African-American heroes had Black prefixing their name–Black Lightning, for example. Despite being a little tactless, the addition of a black superhero was a good addition to the world of Spiderman. More ridiculous though is that they introduced a Spiderman a hispanic nemesis called Tarantula, who spews a lot of communist rhetoric while fighting Spidey (this probably has something to do with the Iran-Contra Affair).
The highlight of the book for me is the dorkiest story in it, “Spider-man Night Fever” where Peter Parker joins Mary Jane at a discotheque ony to have the dancehall taken over by supervillains using mind-control to make dancers their slaves–well, all except Peter somehow. Other highlights include a story where Spiderman teams up with the Rhino to fight a New-Age cult. Also, there’s a team-up issue with Daredevil that’s drawn by comics legend Frank Miller.